On the Gospel of John, Part 29: The Final Earthly Journey

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On the Gospel of John, Part 29: The Final Earthly Journey

As it is recorded in the earlier chapters of John, Yahshua Christ had healed the lame man and opened the eyes of the blind, and these things were done in accord with the words of the prophets in relation to the coming of a Savior, which would be Yahweh God Himself, for example as it is written in Isaiah chapter 35: “4 Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, even God with a recompence; he will come and save you. 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6 Then shall the lame man leap as an hart, and the tongue of the dumb sing: for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert.” This we have already discussed at length when we encountered John’s testimony of the healing of the lame man, in chapter 5, or of the man who was blind from birth, in chapter 9 of his gospel.

While it is not recorded in John, there are also accounts of His having healed the deaf and the dumb. For example, in Mark chapter 7 we read: “31 And again, departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, he came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis. 32 And they bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech; and they beseech him to put his hand upon him. 33 And he took him aside from the multitude, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spit, and touched his tongue; 34 And looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith unto him, Ephphatha, that is, Be opened. 35 And straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain. 36 And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it; 37 And were beyond measure astonished, saying, He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak.

Where the people had said “He hath done all things well: he maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak”, the reference to “all things” must have been to all of the things that the Old Testament had prophesied in relation to a promised savior, or Messiah for Israel. They could recognize that Yahshua Christ was the promised Messiah from the things which He was able to do, that had been written in the words of the prophets many centuries earlier. This is explained by Christ Himself in Matthew chapter 11, where John the Baptist, just before his death, wanted to verify that Yahshua was indeed the Messiah, so he sent his disciples to question Him: “3 And [they] said unto him, Art thou he that should come, or do we look for another? 4 Jesus answered and said unto them, Go and shew John again those things which ye do hear and see: 5 The blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. 6 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.”

It is these same things that were written in the prophets which were also being reported to the officers of the temple, as we just read in Mark, “And he charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it”. But instead of being awed, they became offended and obsessed with killing Him because He was a threat to their own status and position. So now, with the greatest of miracles, which is the resurrection of the dead, their obsession begins to culminate here in John chapter 11, where the reason we have given for their hatred is also verified. We will not get quite that far in our commentary this evening, because there are a few things here in John chapter 11, and concerning events which are described in John chapter 12, that we must first discuss. So this evening we basically only have an introduction to the circumstances surrounding the resurrection of Lazarus.

But the fact that for decades after His ascension so many witnesses were willing to die for their testimony of Christ in the face of Roman and Jewish opposition, and then so many vicarious witnesses had followed them in that death for several centuries, things which are all historically verifiable, helps to firmly establish that these testimonies are true.

Ostensibly, with these events which are recorded in John chapter 11 it is now almost three-and-a-half years from the start of the ministry of Christ, and about a week, or perhaps two weeks, before His trial and crucifixion. While chapter 10 of his gospel left Christ in the place where John had baptized, across the Jordan and not far from Jerusalem, this account in chapter 11 begins over four months later, and we cannot imagine that Christ remained in that place for so long a time. Now it is near the Passover, the beginning of our April, and John had recorded nothing since the discourse on the Good Shepherd had been made in the temple at the Feast of Restoration perhaps four months before, in late November or early December. In the synoptic gospels leading up to this week, Yahshua travels with a multitude of disciples from Galilee to Judaea, and makes His triumphal entrance into Jerusalem about a week before His crucifixion, which is recorded in Matthew chapter 21 and in Mark chapter 11. The multitude of disciples with Him at this time is evident in Luke chapter 18 where Yahshua once again prophecies of His imminent death and resurrection, and we read in part: “35 And it came to pass, that as he was come nigh unto Jericho, a certain blind man sat by the way side begging: 36 And hearing the multitude pass by, he asked what it meant. 37 And they told him, that Jesus of Nazareth passeth by.” In Luke chapter 19, Bethany is mentioned, but neither Luke nor the other gospel writers said anything about the raising of Lazarus which John describes here, which must have happened not long after Christ passed through Jericho, arriving in Judaea for His last sojourn in Jerusalem.

While it is inevitable that Christ would have to attend the temple in Jerusalem for the upcoming Passover feast, here John begins by describing the sickness of Lazaros as the reason why He went to Judaea when He did:

XI 1 And there was a certain sick man [P6 inserts “there”], Lazaros from Bethania, from of the town of Mariam and her sister Martha.

Bethania is of course the Bethany of the King James Version, a village near the Mount of Olives in Judaea which was a little less than two miles from Jerusalem. The precise meaning of the name is not clear, but the original Strong’s lexicon says house of dates, to which the newer edition adds house of misery.

The name Mariam is often found as Maria throughout the various manuscripts of the Gospels, even in most of the oldest manuscripts, and also as Mary in the King James Version of the Bible. Mariam is defined in Strong’s Greek lexicon as being derived from a Hebrew word, meriy (Strong’s # 4805), which is bitterness or rebellion. The name was shared by two women in the Old Testament, where the King James Version spells it as Miriam (Strong’s # 4813). One of them was the sister of Moses and Aaron, and the other a later descendant of Judah. I would assert that it also may be derived from meriy and a contraction of am, or people (Strong’s # 5971). Thereby it may be said that Mary the mother of Christ, who also bore this same name, represented the rebellious people from whom He was born. The newer editions of Strong’s state that Mariam means their rebellion, which nearly accords with our assertion.

The name Martha is described in the original Strong’s Greek lexicon (# 3136) as having a derivation which is “probably of Chaldean origin meaning mistress”, with which Joseph Thayer agrees in his own lexicon. The more recent Strong’s dictionary agrees with the original Strong’s as to the origin of the word, but concerning its meaning it says that it means she was rebellious, without giving a source or citation. That would mean it had come from the same Hebrew root as Mariam, and there are vaguely similar words, meriyruwth (Strong’s # 4814), which is bitterness, and the feminine name Merayowth (Strong’s # 4812), which is rebellious. However it also seems likely that Martha may have been derived from the Hebrew word mir’iyth (Strong’s # 4830), which is feeding or pasturage, and that best fits her personality, for which see Luke 10:40-41 where Martha was “cumbered about much serving” while Mary “sat at Jesus feet, and heard His word.”

Finally, the name Lazarus (Strong’s # 2976) is said by Strong’s to be “probably of Hebrew origin”, referring readers to the Hebrew name El’azar (# 499), or Eleazar, which means God is helper. Of course, Lazarus being raised from the dead, certainly was helped by God in the person of Yahshua Christ. The newer Strong’s dictionary says that Lazarus means whom God helps.

As a digression, we must comment on some Greek grammar, which hopefully may also help to clarify a few arguments concerning names such as Jesus. It seems natural that the name Eleazar would be elided into Lazar in Greek, and then given a Greek ending, becoming Lazarus, whereby it would become declinable. In grammar, a declension is a slight change in the form of a word according to its function in a sentence, and the change is called an inflection. In Greek, the ending added to a noun or adjective, or sometimes other words, would change according to the case in which it is used, whether it be the subject or object of a verb, or whether it is possessive or dative or certain other cases. For this same reason, the Hebrew form of Yahshua is elided and given a Greek ending, whereby it becomes Ἰησοῦς, a form which is also declinable. With few exceptions, all Greek words end in a vowel, or in the letters n, r or s, and they can be declined, or if they are are verbs, the inflections are called conjugations rather than declensions. Nouns which do not end in one of these letters are indeclinable, meaning that their form does not change regardless of how they are used in a sentence. The names Mariam and David are examples of these types of words in the New Testament.

Now John provides some background on Mariam by referencing an event which he himself did not record, or rather, has not yet recorded, as we shall discuss:

2 Now it was [P45 has “Now she was the”] Mariam who anointed the Prince with ointment and wiped off His feet with her hair, [variously, P66 and D insert “and”] whose brother Lazaros was sick [P66 has “brother was Lazaros the sick man”].

In verse 1 the name Mariam is Marias in the Greek in all of the ancient manuscripts, which is the Genitive form of Maria. The form Mariam is indeclinable, but there the form Marias appears even in the manuscripts which have employed spelling of the name as Mariam. This seems to suggest that the scribes who wrote Mariam knew that in Greek the form should have been Maria, although in our translation we did not follow that suggestion. Starting my translation of the gospels with Luke, the form Mariam prevails rather consistently in nearly all of the manuscripts for nearly every occurrence, and I sought to maintain consistency when I translated the other gospels at a later time. Here in verse 2 the name is Maria in the 3rd century papyrus P66, in the Codices Sinaiticus (א), Alexandrinus (A), Bezae (D) and Washingtonensis (W), and in the Majority Text. It is Mariam in the 4th century papyrus P6 and in the Codex Vaticanus (B).

The word for ointment here is μύρον (Strong’s # 3464), a general word for ointment which is not necessarily myrrh. Citing its use by Herodotus, Liddell & Scott define the word as “sweet juice extracted from plants, sweet-oil, unguent, balsam”, and they also state that it was later used to describe “a place where unguents were sold, the perfume-market”, citing Aristotle. Liddell & Scott explain that myrrh is “the gum of an Arabian tree, Balsamodendron Myrrha” called σμύρνα, and among other things it was used as incense, as an unguent or salve, or for embalming the dead, citing several ancient classical writers. Myrrh was also one of the gifts which the Magi had brought to Christ as a child, and Matthew used the more particular word, σμύρνα, which also happens to be the name of the city of one of the seven churches of the Revelation. So while the English word myrrh is obviously borrowed from the general Greek word for ointment, μύρον, σμύρνα was used of a particular ointment which we know as myrrh.

We have an account in Luke chapter 7 where an unnamed woman had acted similarly while Christ was in Capernaum in Galilee. There Luke had written “37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster box of ointment, 38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.” The Pharisee, whose name was Simon, then contended with Christ, and was reproved by Him for despising the obviously repentant woman.

The subsequent sequence of events recorded in Luke inform us that this event which is described in Luke chapter 7 happened long before these final weeks in the ministry of Christ. But the woman of Luke chapter 7 could only have been Mariam if Mariam was in Galilee at that much earlier time, and otherwise, it must have been a different woman. In Luke chapter 8, Luke describes at least some of the women who accompanied Christ at that time, and this particular Mariam is not named among them. However here, while John wrote in a past tense, he is writing much later than any of these events had actually occurred, and this explanation here in verse 2 is only a parenthetical remark. So it is possible that he is referring to something which he has yet to describe, where John recorded that Mariam had anointed Christ in that exact manner later on, in chapter 12 of this Gospel. That later anointing is also described in both Matthew chapter 26 and Mark chapter 14.

3 Therefore the sisters [P66 has “Therefore Maria”] sent to Him saying “Prince, behold, he whom You are fond of is sick!”

Here the verb for fond is φιλέω (Strong’s # 5368), where in verse 5 the verb for love is ἀγαπάω (Strong’s # 25), and we sought to make a distinction betweeen the two. The King James Version has love in both places.

Evidently, we do not know Lazarus from any of the earlier accounts in the gospels, but his sisters are mentioned earlier. Of course, there is the Lazarus of the parable in Luke chapter 16, but that is an allegory which was made at an earlier time, and it is not necessarily the same Lazarus. As we have explained, the name Lazarus is from a Hebrew phrase which means God is helper, a Hellenized form of the ancient Hebrew name Eleazar, so the name is fitting to use in the context of the parable that Luke had recorded. As shall be evident in John chapter 12, the house of Mariam, Martha and Lazarus is also the house of one “Simon the leper”. Christ healed a leper in Galilee, in Matthew chapter 8, who may have been the same leper as the one mentioned in Mark chapter 1 and Luke chapter 5, but not necessarily Simon the leper of Bethany in Judaea. Evidently Simon the leper was healed, although he is still called a leper, but the record is not apparent in Scripture, because Yahshua is lodging in his home.

Christ must have known the family of Mariam, Martha and Lazarus from an earlier point in His ministry, and knew them well enough to lodge with them when He arrived in Judaea near to Jerusalem. Of this we read an account from an earlier time found in Luke chapter 10: “38 Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus' feet, and heard his word. 40 But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. 41 And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: 42 But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”

However even with that record in Luke chapter 10, the origination of the relationship is simply not mentioned in any of the gospel accounts, as the gospels are written in a very simple and concise manner. Perhaps Luke in that account was describing the beginning of the relationship. For a ministry of three-and-a-half years, and a lifetime of over thirty-three years, there is very little about where Yahshua Christ had slept and of about many of the people with whom He had associated Himself. The gospels are not a biography of Christ, but rather they are a testimony of His Being, His purpose, His words and His works. Of course, in that we have the message of “good news” for the children of Israel.

Now, in relation to the news concerning Lazarus:

4 Then hearing Yahshua said “This sickness is not to result in death, but is for the honor of Yahweh, in order that the [P45 has ‘His’] Son of Yahweh [P45 and P66 want ‘of Yahweh’, or ‘of God’] is magnified on account of it [or ‘extolled because of it’]!”

As Yahshua Christ had asserted before the Pharisees, which is recorded in John chapter 5, He is the promised Son of the 2nd Psalm, the Son who would rule all nations, where it says in part “7 I will declare the decree: the LORD hath said unto me, Thou art my Son; this day have I begotten thee.” Yet being Yahweh God Himself, He was also the savior who was prophesied to come into the world and do the works which were written for Him to do, so that men would know Him and so they would magnify Him, and they did.

5 Now Yahshua loved Martha and her [P66 has “the”] sister and Lazaros.

Here John establishes the fact that there must have been a standing relationship between this family and Yahshua Christ, even if its full origin and history are never explained except for the brief mention in Luke chapter 10.

The Codex Bezae (D) has φιλέω, which we may render as “had affection for”, to maintain the distinction with. The other manuscripts all have ἀγαπάω here. Either word may be rendered as love or cherish, among other things. Many commentators strive to make concrete distinctions between these two words, even affecting matters of doctrine. The truth is that while each word had some peculiar uses, a brief survey of the use of each word in a lexicon such as Liddell & Scott shows that the words were used quite interchangably throughout the entire Classical and Hellenistic periods. But they were rarely used to express sexual or erotic love, which is the verb ἐράω, which as a noun is ἔρως.

6 Therefore as He heard that he is sick, then at that time He remained in that place where He was for two days [P45 and D have “remained at the place for two days”], 7 whereupon [P66 and D have “then”] after this He says to the students [P45 wants “to the students”; P66 has “to them”; A and D have “to His students”; the text follows P6, P75, א, B, W and the MT]: “We should go into Judaea again.”

Apparently, Christ waited purposefully for two days, not rushing to the side of the sick man, and being in Capernaum in Galilee, according to the other gospel accounts, it would take as many as four more days to get to Bethany. By then, Lazarus was dead and laid to rest in a tomb for at least that long, as Christ knew he was dead before they departed on their journey, which is recorded here in verses 11-13. So it is evident that Christ waited until He knew that Lazarus was dead before departing from Galilee.

8 The students say to Him “Rabbi, now the Judaeans sought to stone You, yet again You go there?”

Six months before this, on the last great day of the Feast of Tabernacles, the Judaeans sought to stone Him, as it is recorded at John 8:59. Then again four months before, during the Feast of Restoration, they sought to stone Him, as it is recorded at John 10:31. Now, although Christ had already told His disciples on several occasions that He was going to be slain in Jerusalem and then resurrected, for example as it is recorded in Luke chapter 9 or Matthew chapters 16 and 17, they nevertheless feared His return to the city.

9 Yahshua replied “Are there not twelve hours in [literally ‘of’] a day? [D has ‘Does not a day have twelve hours?’] If one should walk in the day, he does not stumble because he sees the light of this order. 10 But if one should walk in the night, he stumbles because the light is not with him [D has it, evidently referring to the order].”

Christ is the light come into the world, and He is actually admonishing the apostles here that they should obey Him, and the words of prophecy which He has already related to them.

Here the Greek word κόσμος is order, rather than the usual way which I render it, as society. Speaking transcendentally, it seems as if Christ was referring to something greater than the earthly Adamic or Israelite society to which I would assert that the word most frequently refers in Scripture, which I shall discuss further on, after a digression concerning the meaning of the word for day.

The Greek, or Roman, day was divided into twelve hours, and the night, distinguished from the day, into four watches. The word for day referred to the daylight hours, and not to our modern 24-hour calendar period. The number of hours in a day fluctuates depending on the time of the year and one’s location on the globe.

[Yes, I said globe, as the statement I just made would prove. Jerusalem has 2:15 more sunlight on December 21st than London, England and 4:46 more than Anchorage, Alaska. On June 20th, London has 2:25 and Anchorage has 5:08 more sunlight than Jerusalem. Between the two dates, the number of hours of daylight in Jerusalem varies by 4:09.]

In modern Jerusalem, in mid-to-late March, which are indeed the weeks leading up to the Passover, there are almost exactly twelve hours of daylight in a day. This year, March of 2019, the closest days were the 16th and 17th of the month, which only deviated from 12 hours by a single minute. So Christ was certainly accurate for that time of year when He said there were 12 hours in a day.

But the light which God spoke into existence and separated from darkness in the third and fourth verses of Genesis chapter 1, which was the first day and where Day and Night were first distinguished, was not necessarily physical light, such as light from the sun, as the sun was not created until the sixteenth verse of the chapter, on the fourth day of Creation. Perhaps it is possible that the first day describes concepts which God had created, light and darkness, truth and lies, etc., but I would rather not speculate. Here Christ also appears to be speaking transcendentally, of a higher existence, that if one remains in the truth then one will not fall. But if one rejects the light of truth, or operates in darkness, then one certainly may fall. The allegory appears in Micah chapter 3: “5 Thus saith the LORD concerning the prophets that make my people err, that bite with their teeth, and cry, Peace; and he that putteth not into their mouths, they even prepare war against him. 6 Therefore night shall be unto you, that ye shall not have a vision; and it shall be dark unto you, that ye shall not divine; and the sun shall go down over the prophets, and the day shall be dark over them.” If the apostles had believed the prophecies of Christ concerning His impending crucifixion, death and resurrection, which He already related to them as it is recorded in the other gospels, then they would have sight and walk in the daylight.

In 1 Thessalonians chapter 5 Paul of Tarsus made a broader allegory from the same concept, which reveals the transcendental meaning to which Yahshua had alluded: “2 For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. 3 For when they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape. 4 But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief. 5 Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness. 6 Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober. 7 For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. 8 But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. 9 For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.”

Now, after hearing of His friend’s illness and tarrying for two days, Christ speaks metaphorically once again, while indicating His certainty that Lazarus was dead:

11 He spoke these things, and after this He says to them: “Lazaros our friend sleeps! But I shall go that I shall awaken him.”

Next, it is evident that the word awaken is also used metaphorically in relation to resurrection from the dead, although John’s further description of the account also reveals that the apostles themselves were confused:

12 Then the students [A has “Then they”; the MT “Then His students”; the text follows P66, P75, B and C, and א, D and W which have a different word order] said to Him: “Prince, if he sleeps, he shall be preserved [P75 has ‘he shall arise’].”

The Greek word σώζω, or σῴζω is primarily “to save from death, keep alive, preserve”, according to Liddell & Scott, and in the King James Version it is usually save, but here merely to do well. Evidently the apostles did not realize from the metaphor that Lazarus was dead, so John now clarifies the meaning for us:

13 Now Yahshua spoke concerning his death, but they supposed that He speaks concerning the sleep of slumber.

The verb for sleep in verse 12 is κοιμάω (Strong’s # 2837), and the noun here the related word κοίμησις (Strong’s # 2838). Both of these words were used metaphorically to describe the sleep of death, κοίμησις even in the Septuagint in the Wisdom of Sirach, chapters 46 and 48 (46:19, 48:13). The noun for slumber is ὕπνος (Strong’s # 5258), which was also often used metaphorically of death. However by saying περὶ τῆς κοιμήσεως τοῦ ὕπνου, concerning the sleep of slumber, John clarifies the meaning for us, or otherwise he would have written περὶ τῆς κοιμήσεως τοῦ θανάτοu, or concerning the sleep of death, θάνατος being death literally and explicitly. But Yahshua had to spell it out for them:

14 So then Yahshua said to them frankly: “Lazaros [D inserts ‘our friend’] has died, 15 yet I rejoice on account of you, that you shall have faith, because I was not there, but we must go to him.”

They shall have faith because if Christ were in Bethany while Lazarus was still sick, or immediately upon His death, perhaps He would only be perceived as having healed him and preventing him from dying. But their faith would be greatly edified if they witnessed Him bringing Lazarus back from the dead, and for that reason He tarried, to make certain that Lazarus was both dead and buried before arriving in Bethany.

Here and in verse 16 I have rendered the verb ἄγωμεν, which is the first person plural Present Subjunctive form of the verb ἄγω (Strong’s # 71), as if it were an Imperative. There is no Present Imperative form of this verb in the first person. William MacDonald in his Greek Enchiridion on pp. 21 and 22 suggests the translation “let us go”, which is the manner in which Greek Imperative verbs are frequently translated, as it is also apparent throughout the King James Version. If I were compelled to adhere to the usual translation of the Subjunctive mood then it would be “we should go” here and “should we… go” in verse 16, as it also is where it appears in verse 7 of this chapter.

In reference to verse 16 which follows, neither the Nestle-Aland text nor any of the popular translations render the statement of Thomas in that verse as a question. In other parts of the New Testament, I have identified at least several rhetorical questions which are often not translated as questions in the popular translations, where a verb of the Indicative mood is followed by a verb of the Subjunctive mood. Here that is not the case, as both the verbs for go and die are Subjunctive. While the rendering of the King James Version is plausible, where it says “Let us also go, that we may die with him”, I see an exception and would rather read the statement as a question, imagining Thomas to have been contentious at this point in a manner which is consistent with his reputation as a doubter.

16 Then Thomas, who is called Twin, said to the fellow students: “Must we also go, that we may die with him?”

Sometimes it is interesting to see how certain ancient or Medieval writers, apparently Christians, viewed or interpreted the Scriptures. There is a strange account from the 10th century, of the raising of Lazarus in the Greek Anthology published by the Loeb Classical Library, which is a large collection of inscriptions and epigrams and other writings from various centuries. This account is found in Volume V, Book XV, Epigram 40 of the Anthology. I will include the entire epigram as an appendix to this portion of my commentary, but I will only present the pertinent part here, where the original author embellished the exchange which was recorded here by John, and our portion begins with the words of Christ:

“… Come, let us haste with all speed to Bethany, where Lazarus’ soul left him, that I may have eternal renown, for I go to raise my friend even from Hell.” And those excellent and noble-hearted men thus answered him back: “Let us go as Thou biddest, O like to Thy Father.”

The poetic value of the epigram was disdained by both a later Greek commentator in the manuscript in which it was preserved, and by the translator of the modern edition, published in 1918, William Roger Paton. In a footnote, Paton said in part: “From a literary point of view, indeed, there is nothing to be said for the production, chiefly made up of Homeric reminiscences.” In fact, the full epigram flattered Christ more than what is sufficient, and also flattered the apostles more than what is appropriate, and having also read Homer I may say that the influence from Greek epic poetry and panegyric is evident.

But what I found most interesting about the epigram was that beyond its excessive flattery, there was the departure in the narrative where it parallels verse 16. Rather than Thomas alone saying anything, it portrays all of the apostles as having answered consensually. Then, rather than the answer being, as the King James Version has it, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”, it is “Let us go as Thou biddest, O like to Thy Father.” The concept expressed there, that Christ would “go to the Father” in death, was new to the apostles when Christ first introduced it to them in John chapter 16, some time after the resurrection of Lazarus. So the writer of the epigram attributed the understanding anachronistically. Catholics seem to do that all the time.

In any event, whether the doubting Thomas had made a statement or asked a question, when faced with the necessity to return to Judaea he seems to have been anticipating death for himself as well as for Christ and the other apostles. If he had heeded the prophecies, he should not have had that concern. Just a few days later, as it is recorded in Matthew chapter 26, Christ would indirectly assure them that they themselves would not be harmed upon His death, where we read “31 Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad. 32 But after I am risen again, I will go before you into Galilee.”

Up to this point, the dialogue presented by John must have taken place in Galilee. While the other three Gospels say nothing about Lazarus, at this same point they have Yahshua Christ traveling from Galilee on his final earthly journey to Judaea with a multitude of His followers, and some aspects of that journey are recorded in great detail. Of these things, John writes nothing. When we first began to present our commentary on this gospel, we repeated the proposition that John had written his gospel as an endeavor to provide accounts of events with which he was intimately familiar and which he thought were significant, but which the other gospel writers did not include. Quite frequently, that proposition certainly seems to be true.

In the gospel of Matthew, at the beginning of chapter 19, it says that Christ “departed from Galilee, and came into the coasts of Judaea beyond Jordan; And great multitudes followed him…” Then towards the end of the journey, after passing through Jericho and healing the blind men and the lepers, we read at the beginning of chapter 21: “And when they drew nigh unto Jerusalem, and were come to Bethphage, unto the mount of Olives, then sent Jesus two disciples, 2 Saying unto them, Go into the village over against you, and straightway ye shall find an ass tied, and a colt with her: loose them, and bring them unto me.” Immediately thereafter, Matthew records the triumphal entry of Christ into Jerusalem.

In Mark chapter 9, Christ is in Galilee, and at the beginning of chapter 10 we read: “he arose from thence, and cometh into the coasts of Judaea by the farther side of Jordan: and the people resort unto him again; and, as he was wont, he taught them again.” His account accords with Matthew chapter 19. Then in Mark 11:1 we read: “And when they came nigh to Jerusalem, unto Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount of Olives, he sendeth forth two of his disciples…” where they had immediately procured the colt upon which He then made His entry into Jerusalem.

In Luke chapter 17, verse 11, it is evident that Christ is passing through Galilee and Samaria on that same final journey to Jerusalem, and in Luke 19:1 we read “And Jesus entered and passed through Jericho.” Then, towards the end of the same chapter: “29 And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 30 Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither.” Just as we read in Matthew and Mark, Christ then makes His triumphal entry through the gates of Jerusalem, where the people spread out their garments and branches from the trees on the ground before Him, and, as only Luke has it, they also declared for Him to be King.

Here, on the surface, there appears to be a significant discrepancy in the chronology of the events as they are described in John when this is compared to the other gospels. Now Christ has come from Galilee into Judaea, which is the final earthly journey that He made to Jerusalem, and John records nothing of it in detail. Two entire chapters of Matthew are devoted to that journey, and one chapter in Mark, and more than two chapters in Luke. Then, in all of these accounts, it seems as if Christ made His triumphal march into Jerusalem as soon as He arrived in Judaea, and none of them say anything about His first tarrying in Bethany and raising Lazarus from the dead, among other things.

According to John, Yahshua Christ arrives in Judaea and stops in Bethany and raises Lazarus from the dead, as it is recorded here in John chapter 11, and then, as it is recorded in John chapter 12, He went into the desert for a time, to a place called Ephraim, in order to avoid the high priests and those who wanted to kill Him. After an unspecified period of time, He returns to Bethany and attends a supper at the house of Lazarus, Mariam and Martha, upon which Mariam took “a pound of ointment of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled with the odour of the ointment.” Finally, the day after that supper, He made His triumphal march through the gates of Jerusalem.

This apparent discrepancy becomes even more complex as two of the other gospels also record the supper where Mariam anointed the feet of Christ with the expensive ointment. But they have it following the triumphal march into Jerusalem, in Matthew chapter 26 and in Mark chapter 13, where John has it preceding the event of His entry into Jerusalem. Luke did not record or mention this supper at all. Yet Luke does seem to leave occasion for there being an interlude between Yahshua’s arrival at Bethany and His triumphal march into Jerusalem, where he preceded his description with the phrase “and it came to pass”, and he wrote “And it came to pass, when he was come nigh to Bethphage and Bethany, at the mount called the mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples, 30 Saying, Go ye into the village over against you; in the which at your entering ye shall find a colt tied, whereon yet never man sat: loose him, and bring him hither.” It may be argued that the phrase “and it came to pass” appears very frequently in Luke’s gospel, yet it usually does seem to indicate an interlude of time between events wherever it appears, with only a few exceptions.

Matthew was an apostle, but not from the very beginning. Therefore everything before Matthew chapter 9 is vicarious, but he was probably an eye-witness to at least most of what he had recorded thereafter. Mark was not one of the twelve, although he may have been a disciple and eye-witness to many events. By all early reports, his gospel is at least mostly written from accounts he received from Peter. John was an apostle from the beginning, he is described as the beloved apostle, and evidently he had witnessed things which even some of the others had not seen. However by all early accounts, his gospel, like that of Mark, was not committed to writing until decades later, at a very late time in his life.

The town of Bethany was only two miles from Jerusalem, or really fifteen stadia as John informs us in verse 18, which is one-and-three-quarter miles, a brisk walk of about thirty minutes. Except for the indeterminable period of time, perhaps only a couple of days or less, which John described that He spent in the wilderness at Ephraim, Yahshua Christ may have lodged in Bethany for at least several of the nights throughout the weeks from the end of His final earthly journey and His arrival in Judaea up until the night of the Last Supper and His subsequent arrest. If that is the case, and if there was an interlude of time between His arrival in Bethany and His triumphal march into Jerusalem that neither Matthew nor Mark chose to record, then there may have been several suppers at the home of Mariam and Martha before and after that event, and Mariam may even have anointed the feet of Christ more than once, while perhaps one apostle or the other did not remember precisely which occasion that it was that Judas disputed the use of the ointment. That would be the only actual and demonstrable discrepancy in the records of these events among these several accounts.

When something is missing from one of the gospel accounts that appears in the others, it cannot be said that it did not happen. Rather, it may be that the writer did not see it himself or had no witness for it, or perhaps only thought that it did not need to be included. As we have before explained, there are several factors explaining all of the apparent discrepancies in the four gospels, the preponderance of which are not actually discrepancies at all. First, only two of the writers were actual eyewitnesses to at least most of the events of these three-and-a-half years, and they are Matthew and John. Luke admits having received the accounts he recorded from unnamed eyewitnesses, including at least some of the disciples, and using them to construct his gospel vicariously. Mark did not make such an admission, but he was apparently a late disciple, and by all early testimonies his accounts were received from Peter, where only later, after Peter’s death, was he encouraged to compile them into a gospel. Each writer is recording events as they were witnessed from different perspectives, and each writer did not necessarily witness or have a witness for every event. Each writer may also have had a different opinion on which aspects of the events, or even which events, were important enough to record, or in how they recollected or repeated many of the things which they or their witnesses had heard. It is also possible that Christ, traveling from town to town as He spoke to various gatherings of people, gave slightly different versions of some of His parables and other speeches, with one apostle later remembering a different version than another once they endeavored to put them to writing. The reconstruction of any historic event from accounts witnessed by more than one person or provided by witnesses faces those same challenges. When all this is considered, the gospels turn out to be quite accurate indeed. This same understanding also helps to explain why certain accounts are so similar among the three synoptic gospels, where each of them records things that the others do not have.

On modern roads, going south along the Jordan river and through Jericho, which is the longer route that He had apparently taken, it is 104 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem, and 113 miles from where He had been in Capernaum. The route through the center of Samaria, which He had taken when He encountered the woman at the well near Shechem in John chapter 4, is considerably shorter, perhaps only about 70 miles to Nazareth. So here, it is evident that Yahshua purposely took the longer route, thereby delaying his arrival in Bethany.

During the course of His earthly life, Yahshua Christ must have made the long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem nearly a hundred times, if not more. That is because He must have also kept the law which required every male in Israel to appear before Yahweh three times each year, at the feasts of unleavened bread, first fruits and ingathering, as it is explained in Exodus chapter 23, or Passover, Pentecost and Tabernacles, as they are more frequently called here in the New Testament. Passover was also the first day of the feast of unleavened bread. So now, at the end of His final earthly journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, of which John recorded nothing while the other gospel writers had written lengthy descriptions, He finally arrives in Bethany. But John practically ignores the details of the journey while he focuses only on the circumstances surrounding Lazarus:

17 Then coming [D inserts “into Bethania”] Yahshua found him having already [A and D want “already”] been in the tomb for four days.

Yahshua had received the report that Lazarus was sick, and He tarried in Galilee for two days until he could announce that Lazarus was dead, whereupon they departed for Judaea. The journey, which on foot was at least 113 miles by the long route which Christ had purposely chose, would be difficult to make inside of four days, but John attests that it took that long. It is certainly possible for a man to walk 30 miles in a day, but with the other things which had happened along the way that the other apostles had recorded in their gospels, they must have walked through nearly all of the daylight hours.

Contrary to Jewish commentary and Talmudic traditions, there is no Old Testament law regarding the burial of the dead. There is only a law that one who is crucified, or hanged on a tree, cannot be left to remain hanging overnight, and must be buried the same day that he is hanged, in Deuteronomy chapter 21. There is, however, evidence that in at least some cases the dead were buried immediately. In Acts chapter 5, Ananias falls dead before Peter, “6 And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him. 7 And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.” So Ananias was probably dead and nearly forgotten when his wife arrived three hours later to meet the same fate. Therefore it seems that there was a custom to bury the dead immediately which was followed in the burial of Lazarus.

Later, when Christ is crucified, in keeping with that law in Deuteronomy He is placed in a tomb almost immediately after he died, but was later visited by women who more carefully dressed His dead body. Coffins were not yet generally used, and in ancient Israel, family tombs were reused by eventually moving the remaining bones of the deceased to an ossuary, which is a chest, box, or an even larger space that was reserved for the collection of the bones of those who had been buried previously. That is why it says in John chapter 19 that Christ was buried in “a new sepulchre [or tomb], wherein was never [a] man yet laid.”

Barnabas would have been laid in a tomb similar to the one used to bury Christ. Dead bodies were wrapped, as we also see in Acts chapter 5, and laid out in a tomb where the bacteria would decay the flesh. Once there were only bones, they would be moved to an ossuary to make room for the next family member who passed. So apparently, the ancient Israelites did not simply lay their dead in a hole and cover them with dirt, something which seems quite dishonorable in comparison to this practice which is evident in our Scriptures.

Arriving in Bethany, Christ has completed His final earthly journey to Jerusalem. Of course, this last earthly journey does not really end until the Resurrection, however it will take 10 of these final 11 chapters of John to get that far.

Appendix:

This is the entire epigram which was cited at verse 16 above.

From the Loeb Classical Library, Greek Anthology, Volume V, Book XV, Epigram 40, translated by W. R. Paton and first published in 1918:

When the good Son of the Almighty, chiefest of men, who rules over all mortals and immortals, said to the wise fishermen, His disciples, “Lazarus our friend has not left yet the light of the sun, while the vast earth covers him these four days,” yet speechless Lazarus lay, his lips closed in silence, his body and bones and goodly flesh decaying; and his soul, taking flight from his limbs, went to Hades, Unspeakable sorrow did he cause to his friends, and most of all to Martha and Mary, his own sisters; for from their hearts they loved their brother, who lay without hurt, thus lifeless in the midst of the dead. His fate they lamented with wailing and dirges, remaining outside the grave and seated by the tomb. Till the sun made the third day on earth, so long was Lazarus decaying lifeless among the dead. But when the fourth rosy dawn came then did the Son of great God thus speak to His noble friends who were born of God, who were superior in wisdom to all men, whom He loved marvellously as if they were the Sons of God, from whose tongues flowed speech sweeter than honey and words like to winter snow-flakes: “O my noble-hearted friends and all who have God within them, list to me, since God is with us, that I may say what my heart within my breast bids me. Come, let us haste with all speed to Bethany, where Lazarus’ soul left him, that I may have eternal renown, for I go to raise my friend even from Hell.” And those excellent and noble-hearted men thus answered him back: “Let us go as Thou biddest, O like to Thy Father.” They spoke, and He himself went on leading His disciples, and they in haste followed the steps of the Almighty; as the tribes of the multitudinous bees go forth, ever continuing to issue from the hollow of the rock, so did the disciples follow great God. But when they reached the tomb much bewept; then his sisters and friends, casting themselves at His feet, besought Almighty Christ: “We clasp Thy knees, O King who dwellest in the highest mansions; the Lazarus Thou didst love is gone to the bowels of Hell. If Thou hadst been here, Hades, the King of the dead, had never dared to abide, for Thou art far more puissant. But even so if Thou wilt, Thou canst raise him up again.” And then the Most High answered, “Where lieth he?” Then swiftly they went close to the tomb. When then they showed him and the doleful tomb to God He said, “Haste ye and take off the cover of the tomb.” But when the doleful tomb of the dead man lay open, then He who was both great God and man called out aloud “Lazarus come hither, hearken to me and come out.” But when Lazarus heard the voice of God the Word, he came forth with decaying limbs bound in grave-clothes, breathing, and stinking. The multitudes, when they saw him, marvelled in their hearts, and straight they glorified the good God who ruleth on high, and the great Father of the good Son got Him great glory.

 

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